Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Chez Picard

Let's get one thing clear from the outset. This is not a post about this gentleman.

Not that I don't think Patrick Stewart is talented - I have seen him in a BBC televised version of "Macbeth" and he was terrific. I just can't abide Star Trek, in any of its incarnations (with the notable exception of last summer's film, which was pretty amusing).

Instead, I would like to draw your attention to a venerable French institution, the Picard chain of food stores. Here is a picture of a typical interior:

Note the oddly antiseptic nature of the place, strangely reminiscent of an operating theater. This is because the only food sold in a Picard store is frozen food. But if you immediately think of fish fingers and frostbitten, freezer-burnt, frozen peas, think again. We are talking about France here, folks, and the one thing the French will not tolerate is inferior food. So the inventory at Picard is heavily biased toward high-quality gourmet items. A google search yields the following condensed history of the chain:

Picard’s history dates back to the 1920s when the Picard family delivered ice in the Seine and Marne Region. After World War II, as technology progressed, they began delivering frozen food. In 1973 Annand Decelle purchased the home delivery business and created Picard. The company began placing its name on products 12 years later. In 1998 the chain adopted the logo that it has used ever since: a snow flake symbolizing the world of frozen freshness and, within it, a little orange-colored diamond symbolizing life. Carrefour bought the operation in 1994. Ten years later it was sold again, this time to a company called BC Partners. Like other freezer centers, Picard sells more than 1,000 items. Each year Picard adds more than 150 products and removes items that do not meet a need.

There are apparently more than 800 Picard stores throughout France. This afternoon I stopped off at one on my way home from the Opera Bastille box office. Imagine my delight when I found the following lurking in one of those surgically sterile freezers,

a treat I hadn't come across since the balmy days of autumn in Madrid in 2009.

Naturally, I couldn't resist. So I filled my little basket with a 4-pack of delicious citrussy treats and a few other microwaveable frozen goodies and headed to the checkout. The checkout lady then spent 5 minutes trying to persuade me to invest in a special "thermal" bag, to protect my purchases on the way home. Even though I explained to her that I lived at most a 7-minute walk away, she was visibly distressed by my failure to buy the special insulating bag. It was as if I were inviting the deadly Salmonella bacteria into my gut right there in front of her, and she was powerless to stop me. A friend had warned me about this peculiarly French obsession with preserving the temperature of frozen food items (the special thermal bags are ubiquitous in regular supermarkets as well), and it was hilarious to experience it first-hand.

But sometimes you just have to live dangerously. In fact, as a little reward for finishing this post, I think I may just have to indulge in one of those frozen lemon treats right now. Even though I know that they spent at least 7 minutes at ambient temperature earlier in the afternoon. If this should turn out to be my last post, you will know why!

At least there are no cucumbers in the house.

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